I have done the traditional cruises in the Caribbean, but when my husband and I decided to go to Alaska for the first time, I wanted to find something different. I did not want a ship that dropped you off for a few hours at a port; I wanted to see wild Alaska. I did some research, most of the small ships were priced out of my budget, but I found information about Uncruise. The more I read the more I realized this was just the type of cruise I was looking for. And, when you consider all the excursions are included in the price, it was within budget. We booked the seven day cruise “Northern Passages and Glacier Bay” on the Wilderness Adventurer starting 8/29/2015 from Juneau to Sitka. I choose this particular cruise because the entire itinerary did not go to another port until we disembarked and also I wanted to see Glacier Bay. This trip and the ship surpassed my expectations.
Day 1 - Embarkation
We flew in two days early, so we had some time to sightsee in Juneau. The day of embarkation, Uncruise arranges a hospitality suite so you can drop off your bags anytime after 9:00 am, which was right downtown, not far from the dock. That left us time to shop and have lunch. Everyone was to meet back at the suite by 4:00 pm. Our luggage had already made it ways to our cabins, so we only had ourselves to deal with. There were tables and chairs set up so you could relax before your journey to the ship and start meeting your shipmates. Mark, the Activities Director, said a few words of welcome. Then we all followed him down the street to board the ship and have our picture taken. Each picture was displayed on a board in the dining room so not only was it easy to remember names of our shipmates, but it helped the crew get to know all of us too. At the gangplank stood the captain of the ship, Shep, who greeted each one of us and welcomed us on board. Then each couple was escorted by a member of the crew to their cabin.
At first I was a bit freaked about the size of the cabin and small storage space. But when I actually unpacked, it all worked fine. It is the smallest cabin I have been in, just room for the twin beds (placed together) and a small cabinet. There is more room if you leave the twins separate; otherwise whoever sleeps on against the wall has to crawl over the other person to get out. There are four shelves against the wall as you come in, that is where you store your clothes, no closet. There are two extra pillows on one shelf (you can ask that they be removed to give yourself more room). That leaves three shelves for your clothes. Our cabin was on the lowest passenger deck, I found later on the cabins on the deck above us has about an extra foot of room, which also gives more room for on the shelf for clothes. There is a sink with a cabinet above, which held most of our toiletries. The bathroom is small. Shower is as you walk into the door, and to keep the toilet and your towels dry you pull a shower curtain across. Space is tight, but the shower is a hand held which helps. There is a full window across the back of the bed, and you can even open it for fresh air or to take pictures through. I tend to need some alone time, there were many times that I propped the pillows up against the wall while in bed, and watched the coastline go by. There is also a shelf above the bed, which was great to store things too (like a clock). Each room has a set of binoculars, very handy.
We met for happy hour and introductions to the heads of the departments. Then we had our safety drill, very painless. Watched the ship leave Juneau and we were on the way.
Dinner was at 7:00. The dining room is open seated, with tables of four and six. You get to choose who you sit with, and you typically get to know most of the people right away. The passengers were probably aged 50 to 70, a few younger and few older. One woman brought her three children, probably late teens or early twenties. There were several Australians and one couple from England. Dinner is plated, and you have three choices, seafood, meat, or vegetarian, all served with the same sides. Each day at breakfast the chef would announce what the evening’s choices were and there was a sign-up sheet. If you changed your mind later, it was not a problem, but it helped with meal planning for the chef to know what and how much to prepare. My choice that night started with a spinach salad with strawberry vinaigrette, salmon in a cream blanche (very yummy), finger potatoes, asparagus, and a rich chocolate dessert with an orange sauce.
This set the bar for the trip, the food (including the buffets) was outstanding and served at the appropriate temperature. Blaine, the head chef was amazing and created terrific food in a very limited kitchen. And the pastry chef, Cathi was very talented. (The only “complaint” I would make is that our cabin was directly across from the kitchen and Cathi worked nights, several times I woke at 2:30 in the morning smelling bread baking, sure wanted to walk across the hall and ask for a sample!) I will continue to list each night’s choices, though I did not keep track of the vegetarian entrees.
After dinner, we met in the lounge (which has a great selection of books, mostly on nature and Alaska) and an extensive game selection. Also heard what was planned for the next day and met the expedition crew. After that the crew would come around and sign you up for which activity you wanted. What was typically offered each day was a guided kayak trip, open kayak (you had to stay within sight of the ship), paddle boarding, a shore walk (easy), a hike (easy to medium), a bushwhack (strenuous), and a skiff tour. Snorkeling was offered once, they provided full wet suits and about 6 of the passengers took this opportunity and said it was great. There were no trails, this is the wilderness. Bushwhacks tended to be up a mountain, through brush and forest. Most lasted about 2 ½ hours (skiff tours were typically 1 hour). All of the guided trips had one expedition leader, and they all were very good. They were knowledgeable about the history, area, wildlife, and plants. We traveled most of the night, and hit some rough ocean (this particular ship does not handle swells well because of the shallow draft). Most of the time we were in protected water and there was very little motion.
One of the things to be aware of, the itinerary that is listed is only tentative. The captain will decide where best to go based on the sea and the weather, which is great so that the bays you are anchored are the most protected for the ship and kayaks.
Day 2-Glacier Bay
We woke up at 5:45, still sailing to clouds and rain. Early morning continental breakfast starts at 6:30 or so. There was fruit, cereal, pastries, and I think oatmeal and grits. Coffee is not very good, but great selection of teas, cocoa, milk, and three types of juices.
Every morning there is a stretch class at 7:00 for 15-20 minutes. It is not yoga, but a very good class to take (don’t need any special clothes). It helps work the kinks out and wake up the body. If not raining it was held on the sun deck, you can’t beat exercise with gorgeous scenery passing by.
Hot breakfast was at 7:30 with Florentine scrambled eggs, Cajun potatoes, excellent crisp bacon, and of course all the cold selections offered earlier. The owner of the company showed up when we arrived in Glacier Bay (Bartlet Cove) at the ranger outpost. He greeted everyone individually and spoke about Alaska and the beautiful protected area of Glacier Bay, a very passionate, inspired man. We took on a ranger for the two days that we were in Glacier Bay, who went on the hikes and also spoke in the evening. She was always available for a conversation on deck. There were only 3 walks offered in the morning, a 1 mile in the forest with the ranger, and a 3 hour walk to a river and lake (one was fast paced and one a bit slower). I took the walk in the forest, which was lovely even though it drizzled the entire time. Unfortunately, it was a large group of people and you could only hear the ranger if you were close. At the end of the walk was a skeleton of Snow, a humpback whale that had been hit by a cruise ship and killed. I took a short nap while we started cruising again.
Lunch was also a buffet, and let me tell you the food was always excellent and plenty of it. There was a salad, coleslaw, BBQ brisket (very yummy), anchio braised pork, mac & cheese, cornbread with honey butter, vegetable soup and a raspberry pound cake. After lunch the ranger talked about Glacier Bay. The guides talked about hiking safety and explained how to get in and out of the boats and kayaks. We were issued vests for kayaking which were kept in individual lockers. Spent the afternoon cruising and watching for wildlife, saw lots of dall sheep. When wildlife is spotted the ship stops to give us lots of time to enjoy. Traveled to Marjorie Glacier and actually saw some calving (small chunks).
Happy hour always had a cocktail on special and appetizer. Today was goat cheese and herb spread. There is beer on tap and a good selection of wine. The alcohol is extra, but the soda pop is free. Also they always had flavored water at the bar, every day something different; one of my favorites was cucumber and mint.
Dinner was a shrimp dish or duck with nuki and kale. Excellent cheese cake. Evening talk was about plants for nutrition and healing held in the lounge. The nice thing was that you could also watch the presentation on the TV and hear it on the speaker in your room.
Day 3-Glacier Bay
Great night sleeping, my husband said he saw the moon during the night, but it was overcast in the morning. Beautiful mountains surrounded us during morning stretch. Breakfast was pancakes, potatoes O-Brian, and large link sausage. We were at Lamplugh Glacier. There were four excursions offered; kayak to the glacier, a skiff and shore, a skiff and scramble (at the side of the glacier), and a skiff tour to this and another glacier. We chose the skiff and shore, spent about 45 minutes in front of the glacier and got a lot closer to it than I expected. Then we were dropped off on the shore beside the glacier for about 45 minutes. The great thing was that there had been a stream beside the glacier that prevented you from getting up close. The stream was such that we could ford it in our rubber boots and actually go and touch the glacier. It was amazing.
Lunch was ginger chicken and rice, coconut fish, stir fry vegetables, spinach salad and spice cake. Also, any dessert left over from lunch was placed out during the afternoon to snack on and at 3:00 fresh baked cookies were offered. Took another nap and then watched out my cabin window. Listened to a lecture by the ranger on seals and birds we would be seeing at South Marble Island. I went on deck and spotted two porpoises and lots of sea lions. Very cool! Happy hour had glazed fig tarts with mascarpone and bacon. Dinner was a choice of pork tenderloin with onion jam or rockfish with apricot chutney, green beans and sweet potato puree. Delicious cheese cake. The evening talk was about the different ways that salmon is raised.
Day 4-Dundas Bay
Sunshine! Woke to the ship cruising and clear skies, saw seals and otters. Morning stretch was interrupted by a moose sighting. Breakfast was omelets, home fries and ham. The excursions offered was a skiff tour, a shore walk, kayaking and two bushwhacks. We took the shore tour, which was great! We saw wolf, bear, and moose tracks. We walked through streams and even through the river, about 1.7 miles. Lunch was tacos with beef or pork, rice, vegetables, nachos, and brownies baked with a bit of cayenne. Our afternoon kayaking was canceled as the wind picked up. Headed off to Icy Bay and whale watching. Finally sighted a breech about 4:30. There were lots of spouts and fluke sightings. Came in for happy hour with drunken watermelon slices and feta cheese cubes. Halfway through more whales were sighted, very active with breeching, tails, and side feeding. Boat finally started back up to send us back in for dinner, which was bacon vinaigrette scallops, lemon chicken and risotto, carrots, parsnip soup, and tisuimi. Dinner was followed by a great sunset.
Day 5-Sitkoy Bay at Chichagolf Island
Very rough night traveling; the ship was rolling from side to side with loud booms as the waves crashed on the side. We traveled all night, had to move from where it was planned on anchoring to another site because the sea was too rough. There was a beautiful sunrise as we did morning stretch. Breakfast was fried eggs mornay, country potatoes, bacon, and scones. Signed up for guided kayak, what a beautiful day, sunshine and fairly calm, saw lots of jelly fish, zombie salmon (dying after spawning), and a couple of harbor seals. We did see a couple of black dots in a meadow that we found out latter were bears that the hikers saw.
Paddled to the settlement of Chatham, which used to be a salmon cannery, now just used as a camp for traveling boats. When the guided excursion was done, we continued to kayak in open paddle around the ship and really enjoyed it. Lunch was chips, salad (great strawberry poppy seed vinaigrette), curry chicken wraps, roast beef cheddar wraps, steak fries with a dipping sauce, cucumber salad and lemon bars. After lunch we did a moderate hike, the wind had picked up so there was no kayaking. Happy hour was on the sun deck. Dinner was Dungeness crab, prime rib, succotash corn, bok chow, beet salad, and chi chocolate dessert. The evening discussion was on the feeding habits of humpback whales.
Day 6-Ushk Bay on Chichagof Island
Had sunshine again. Breakfast was French toast, link sausages and home fries. Took another guided kayak trip, the water was calm, quiet, and very serene. We paddled to the mouth of the bay, saw an eagle. We then continued in open kayak, this is the Alaska I hoped to see, wild and gorgeous. Lunch we had delicious lasagna, Alfredo shrimp, eggplant parmesan, garlic toast, salad and a great dessert that was cashews in a date bar sort of thing. In the afternoon we did a shorewalk and ventured in the forest for a bit, really awesome. We found a deer skull, lots of dead Dungeness crabs and fish. Happy hour was on the sun deck again, salmon and crackers as the appetizer. We even saw a whale as we were enjoying our cocktails. Dinner was halibut, lamb, butternut bisque, white beans over shaved zucchini. The evening entertainment was Alaska animal trivia. We were going through the Narrows that night, I arrived too late on deck to see but my husband said it was very interesting to see the boat travel through this very narrow channel. That night the crew woke us to see the Northern Lights. Spectacular!
Day 7-Magoun Islands
Breakfast was cheesy eggs, potatoes and ham. We decided to just do open kayak as the day before it was pretty strenuous paddling. The area was so pretty that most everyone wanted to kayak. We had to wait until the guided kayak trips left (three groups of them), and discovered there was only one kayak left for open, luckily we were geared up and ready to go. All the guided kayaks left the area and we had the islands around the ship to ourselves, just drifting along, soaking in the scenery. It was so quiet, very awesome. This was one of the highlights of our trip. Lunch was grilled chicken, steak strips and blackened cod, Cesar salad and yummy caramel cupcakes. In the afternoon we did a shore walk, did see an eagles, lots of hermit crabs, little fish and bear poop. Dinner was salmon or filet migon, brocollini, mashed potatoes, and a pear salad. After dinner was the polar plunge, and yes, I did it! They then did a slide show of pictures the guides took of our trip. This will be emailed to the passengers. Boat moved to a pretty bay a few miles from Sitka for the evening anchor.
Left the bay about 5:45 am. We went on deck to take pictures of the last day of travel and coming into Sitka. Had a delicious breakfast casserole with a cheese sauce and the terrific bacon again. All the crew lined up at the bottom of the gangplank to say farewell. A word about the crew, this was the happiest, most talented and friendliest crew I have ever met on a ship. They love what they do and all of them have time to interact with the guests even though they put in long hours. A bus took us to the hospitality suite at the Westmark hotel. The ship provides transportation to the airport, but if your flight does not leave until later, you can leave your luggage there and continue to sightsee.
In conclusion, if you wish to see wild Alaska from the water, this is the type of cruise you should take. Read Less